I've heard a number of my fellow bloggers mention the therapist behind Memoirs of an LDS Therapist, Maurice Harker. From what he has written on his blog, he sounds like a wonderful resource. One of Maurice's "warriors" emailed me recently with some very genuine, heartfelt, and thought-provoking questions. This "warrior" is not yet married and wanted some advice from a wife who married her husband after finding out about his struggles.
I was honored to be able to share my thoughts with him, and our discussion over email sparked some topics that I'd like to address, and I hope what I write is helpful to both women going through this and young men (or even married men) wondering how to navigate a healthy marriage with this addiction.
Marriage is hard and requires serious effort by both partners in order to be successful.
We've heard people say that over and over and over. Before we are married, people tell us that and we think, "well of course it is." But we have no idea why or how it is hard. Let me try to explain. (And--married women and men--chime in on anything I may have missed!)
Did you ever share a room with a roommate in college (or even a sibling) and got sick of them by the end of the year? Do you know someone who chews loudly? Slurps their cereal? Constantly sniffs instead of blowing their nose? Always leaves half-empty soda cans sitting around? Says things that offend you? Has very outspoken opinions you don't agree with? Tries to tell you that the way you scramble eggs isn't right? Has an obnoxious laugh? Knows exactly what hurts you or annoys you and seems to say it/do it over and over and over without ever learning? Takes, takes, takes and never gives? Turns into a grouch at the drop of a hat? Is overly happy and constantly telling you not to be a grouch? Always says they'll do something and never follows through?
Imagine all the stuff that really gets under your skin.
Now imagine you are married to that person. Sealed together for time and all eternity. You have to make decisions with that person. In fact, you're expected to love and adore and dote on that person.
That, my friends, is how marriage is hard.
"Wait," you say, "I would never marry a person who drives me insane like that." Oh, but you will. And do you know what's even worse? You are that person, too!
Okay. I know I'm being silly here, but this is the truth. Each of us has our flaws. The thing is, most of us don't really recognize our flaws, but we surely recognize everyone else's flaws, especially when it comes to our spouses. Big huge problems in marriages often start as tiny peas under our stack of mattresses. And if we don't want to offend our spouses, we often ignore that uncomfortable pea and hope it will go away (which it likely won't). At the other end of the spectrum, that little pea drives us so crazy that we dig and dig and dig (and blame and blame and blame and argue and argue), ruining the mattresses in the process. When we first get married, we are often too busy jumping on the mattresses and having pillow fights and laughing to really feel the peas. Once we settle in, they become more obvious. Unfortunately, lots of couples don't know how to address problems in a healthy way and end up either ignoring them or arguing about them.
Interestingly (and, I am quite sure, not coincidentally), I listened to Gordon B. Hinckley's "Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled" speech from 1974 on my way to work yesterday. He talks in it about a young couple whose marriage crumbled after only 6 months due to the types of things I listed above. What had started as a marriage between two people who thought the world of each other quickly disintegrated when they merged their lives, opinions, habits, and judgments together. (I recommend listening to or reading the speech.)
It is so easy to recognize the flaws in others. It is also easy for them to recognize the flaws in us. And that hurts. Especially when it comes from the person we chose to love the most in our lives. If someone at work constantly makes jokes about your hair (and is seemingly clueless that it hurts you), you find a way to brush it off and label that person as "annoying." If your spouse does it, your confidence is chipped away little by little by little, and eventually you label your spouse as "hurtful." And labeling our spouses starts a downward spiral. The people we love the most have the biggest effect on us, and vice versa. We are often very kind to strangers, and sarcastic/rude/brutally honest to the people we love the most.
Then, as if that isn't enough, throw all the stresses in the world into
the mix (education, finals, trying to find a job, getting laid off,
years of unemployment, losing a loved one, depression, mental illness,
addiction, lying, financial troubles, demanding church callings,
infertility, miscarriage, babies that won't stop crying, kids with disabilities, insecurities, kids who go astray,
problems with in-laws). It is very hard to deal with those things
together if you don't see eye to eye in your approach to life.
This may sound like I'm referring to extreme cases, but even the most loving couples annoy and hurt each other at times. The key is to really learn how to embrace each others' differences and recognize that we all have imperfections. I am not my spouse. He is not me. And that's okay. After almost a decade of marriage, this is something I am still working on fully grasping.
Here is perhaps some of the best advice I ever got from my mom: The person you marry is the person you will be married to in 50 years. In 50 years, they will still have the same quirks and annoying habits. Choose wisely, because you aren't going to change that person. You can learn and grow together, but be sure you really love that person and all their flaws.
Marriage is hard, because you have to go through the most stressful times of your life with someone who isn't you (meaning you have to be flexible and sensitive to their feelings at times when all you feel you can do is keep yourself afloat). But when you both learn how to embrace your differences and work together and truly serve each other and find joy in each other even during the hardest times, marriage is the best thing in the whole entire world. Why? Because you get to spend every day with your best friend.